“Man, the store is crazy,” he said, beaming. “Mom’s out there hustling flowers like it’s her full-time job.”

“Well, it kinda is,” I noted.

“So much for retirement,” he said on a laugh.

“I think we all knew she was never gonna retire.”

I didn’t realize we had stepped toward each other until I could smell the sunshine on him. He must have been driving with the windows down. I wondered if he was going to get a sunburn on his left arm, and I fought the impulse to go get the sunscreen out of my bag for him.

Ivy cleared her throat. “We’ve got some more orders ready for you. They’re in the cooler.”

He blinked at me and stepped back, looking to Ivy. “I’m on it. Haven’t seen this much action in forever.”

Ivy snorted, and I shot her a look, taking up my station at the table again as Luke loaded a box with orders. When he stood, the weight of the box in his hands engaged all those muscles he possessed, the veins on his forearms visible from across the room.

“All right, girls—don’t get into any trouble.” He flashed a hotshot wink at me as he passed, and somehow, even that was sexy. A wink.

I wondered absently if I should get my head checked. Surely, something had to have gotten into me.

Besides Luke.

I laughed at my hands, and Ivy gave me a look.

“Seriously, you are giddy. Giddy,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong—I don’t hate it. But you don’t like … smell burned toast or anything, do you? Because if we need to get you a CAT scan or something, I think that can be arranged.”

“I’m fine, Ivy,” I said on a laugh. “God, a girl can’t even get any around here without the third degree.”

“Considering you make most guys wait three dates before hooking up, I don’t think I’m being unreasonable by asking.”

“Three dates is not that many. And I’ve known Luke most of my life. You act like I got some strange in a gas station bathroom.”

“In Tess-land, it’s basically equivalent.”

I rolled my eyes at her, but I was laughing again. I couldn’t help it. The whole thing was too crazy for words.

“Well, never fear,” she said. “I’m here to help shepherd you through it.”

“The queen of flings.”

“I don’t know if you know this, but I’m a little out of practice.”

“I heard getting knocked up will do that to a girl.”

“It’s true,” she said with a sigh and a rub of her belly.

“Well, if I decide to go for it, you’d better teach me all there is to know about casual sex. You can officially pass the torch.”

“Let’s just hope you don’t get burned,” she joked.

But a flash of worry shot through me at the thought.

She wasn’t wrong. Luke Bennet wasn’t any less dangerous than he’d been yesterday. In fact, he was probably more dangerous than ever.

But with every kiss, I found it harder and harder to care. And deep down, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to put up a fight even if I wanted to.

LUKE

I shifted on the blanket again, wondering if I looked casual.

If you have to ask yourself that, you do not look casual.

It was late, the greenhouse bathed in moonlight, music floating out of my little speaker as I waited on Tess to meet me. I’d brought a couple of lanterns and laid out some camping mats under the big woolen plaid. In the cooler was ice, and on top of it was a bottle of whiskey. And all around was the abundance of flowers reaching up to the skylight.

The bounty of this place was astounding. My father’s green thumb had been learned from his father-in-law, who had tended the greenhouse before him, just as my mother’s knack for flowers had been learned from my grandmother, passed down to Laney, Ivy, and Tess. But Laney had never loved it, not the way Mom had and not in the way Tess did. Dad understood. I don’t know that Mom ever would. And as such, Tess had become the vessel to pour her passion into.

And really, it was a boon because Tess needed Mom. Needed a mom.

I scanned the greenery, dotted with zinnias. Even after the heavy harvest today, there was more to be had. And over the next days and weeks, more would bloom.

It was one of the many majesties of flowers—the more you took, the more they gave.

One common misconception of gardening was that pruning would hurt the plants. But so long as you did it with conscientious awareness, the bounty would multiply. When control was exerted, when boundaries were put in place, the subject thrived. When left wild, they would overgrow, choke other plants. The bounty would thin. The plant might even die.

Glancing at the greenery, one might think it was chaos. But that chaos was controlled, contemplated, cared for with consideration.


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